Mitchell Reports | February 12, 2013
>>> it's a big chance for the president to reach over the heads of congress and lay down his terms for a budget deal and other priorities. joining us now michael waldman who served as president clinton 's chief speechwriter from 1995 until 1999 and is now the director of nyu's brennan center for justice , and anita dunn, former white house communications director and former advisor to then senator obama . welcome to both. thank you very much. anita , first to you. have you talked to people in the white house . the president's focus is jobs and the economy and laying out some terms of the budget deal. you also have to sort of paint broad strokes. this isn't the inaugural address . this is when it gets specific. what is the real goal here?
>> thank you for having me on. you know, the president has addressed a joint session of congress seven times in his presidency, and each time the underlying piece of this has always been about the economy and middle class families and how do we get this country moving again with an economy that helps middle class families, and that's the predicate. that's really the story of his presidency. the state of the union is the opportunity to speak to the entire country as well as congress and to really lay out what your priorities are, and i think the president uses these occasions very well because you don't get the opportunity more than once a year.
>> michael , what is the challenge from a speechwriter's perspective of how you think through and capture the voice of the person you are helping to craft the speech for?
>> have you to find a way to talk about the ar contain details sometimes of policy, but have the voice of the president shine through. he is bringing together as we go these grand themes of american history , and he laid out quite a few important policy thoughts in that speech so he would have an opportunity to put some flesh on the boendz to lay out some details on things like immigration or voting rights where he talked about long lines and, you know, how that challenges our notion of ourselves as having a strong free and fair american democracy, and he can talk in detail about this. he shouldn't, i don't think, be afraid of the details. people actually at home, i think, kind of crave the chance to hear from their president, the person they elected bshgs what he wants to do.
>> and to that point, what about being specific about the budget? we heard from gene sperling earlier on " morning joe " that he is xlitd to entitlements. the deal is still on the table. is he willing to do what john boehner today with reporters said he wasn't willing to do, which is have the guts to challenge his base and make some really tough decisions, call for some tough decisions on entitlements?
>> well, i'm not going to speak for the president who is more than capable of speaking for himself tonight. i guess i find it ironic that john boehner would be talking about an unwillingness to challenge his base, if you look at the history of the last two years, and the white house 's continual attempts to find common ground and really to find a brand bargain, a big fix, which, unfortunately, the congressional republicans have never been willing to really consider, but i think that this president has shown that perseverance and sticking to the task at hand is really one of his great strengths. you know, state of the unions are the story of america, and every year it's a time to take account of where we are and for the president to say where he thinks we need to go next. i think we need a mix of specifics, but you also need that vision, because people need to understand where it is we're going to get to if we put these things in place, and that's where the president has, i think, always been very strong in his speeches and giving us a sense of where he wants to lead this country.
>> now, michael , what about the fact that the republicans have an official response, marco rubio , and we know that he is going to also tape the spanish version of his response. there's also the tea party response that we're going to get super senator ran paul. does that signal, again, that the republicans are still divided on how to approach some of these big issues?
>> it sure does and it shows t s the power that the president has of speaking with one voice. looking at the election losses, the trends, looking at the degree to which some of the positions are out of step of popular sentiment, it makes big decisions about whether it changes and how it changes. i would be very interested to see what the president says on immigration, whether he reaches out to senator rubio and what senator rub owe says in response because that is one issue where both parties for their own reasons actually really want to get something done and the only way, of course, to do that is together.
>> and in fact, anita , to that point, lindsey graham , john mccain have their own reasons for wanting some progress on immigration. marco rubio if he wants to run for president and we believe everyone has ambitions, would i think be in his interest to get this done now and a compromise behind him.
>> i think it is in the interest of both political parties and for the nation to get this done now. however, michael 's point about the fact that when it's bad enough having to do one response, andrea. i can tell you that as one on the other side and when you have a party that feels it's necessary to do two responses you have a seriously divided party with the challenge of trying to do something where you have such mainstream support from a john mccain , from a lindsey graham , from a marco rubio . it tells you how difficult this is going to be for the republicans to get this done.
>> and for the president facing divided republican opposition.
>> thank you. we have to leave it there. good to